BAKU—An Azerbaijani court on Wednesday has issued arrest warrants for three members of the European Parliament who visited Artsakh to monitor the Constitutional referendum there on Monday. They are wanted for visiting Karabakh, as well as for acting as monitors of the referendum, which Baku deemed illegal.
Warrants were issued for Frank Engel of Luxembourg, Eleni Theocharous of Cyprus and Jaromir Stetina of the Czech Republic, who were among more than 100 monitors from 30 countries to visit Artsakh for Monday’s vote. They and other observers deemed the referendum, which overwhelmingly approved a new Constitution for Artsakh, democratic and fair.
Azerbaijani media reported Wednesday that Baku had asked Interpol to execute the arrest warrants. However, Armenia’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Armen Tatoyan told reporters on Thursday that according to Armenia’s national police the three members of the European Parliament are not wanted by Interpol.
Meanwhile, Armenia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharyan on Thursday called the criminal case against the legislators “ridiculous.”
“The Azerbaijani authorities have long turned everything into a farce – both international law and their domestic life,” said Kocharyan. “It’s ridiculous and can in no way affect the visits to Artsakh.”
Tatoyan, the human rights defender, expressed confidence that such steps from Baku will not deter journalists and politicians from visiting Artsakh, and in fact it may make them more frequent.
“A vivid indication of this was the visit of 104 foreign observers from 30 countries during the Constitutional referendum in Artsakh. All of them, including Frank Engel, Eleni Theocharous and Jaromir Stetina, are advocates of democratic values. The visits of foreign guests and their activity in Artsakh have always and will always be lawful,” said Tatoyan.
“We have to do our best to attain recognition of Artsakh with its democratic institutions,” said the ombudsman.
“it is high time to eliminate the so-called ‘black list.’ No vicious step by Azerbaijan will ever hamper the development of democracy in Artsakh,” added Tatoyan.
A prominent Russian legal expert, Denis Dvornikov called Baku’s move “hysteria.”
“The referendum on Constitutional amendments held in Nagorno Karabakh has greatly irritated the neighboring country. However, I am convinced that Interpol will reject such an application, as it will become a dangerous precedent the world over. In addition to that, Interpol officials have respect towards their spare time and work, as when one precedent is formed, they will receive similar requests regarding all the disputed territories of the world. This is a political issue,” said Dvornikov.
He noted that such an act by Azerbaijan is more directed toward its own population to demonstrate that their leaders can somehow affect the Nagorno Karabakh referendum.
He also reiterated Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov‘s sentiments that it was unacceptable to ban someone from visiting a place.
“He [Lavrov] made it clear that visits to Artsakh are not forbidden,” Dvornikov said adding that eventually Azerbaijan’s actions will also cast a pall for international organizations, as they have Lavrov.
“Criminalizing visits to Artsakh is a threat to Russia’s national security and territorial integrity. This is a very important matter,” Dvornikov underscored referring to the disputes of Crimea and Kuril Islands.
Baku’s actions against the European Parliament members comes weeks after a Russian-Israeli blogger, Aleksander Lapshin, was extradited to Baku on a similar warrant on charges of visiting Artsakh and denigrating Azerbaijan in his articles.